Then there were the things that flew under the radar. There was a bakery owner who stood outside to hand protesters bread. There were the journalists who ate one pizza for days at a time because there was nowhere to buy food in Minneapolis. (I couldn’t have been the only one, right?). There were the Twin City natives who spent days in the streets and nights in a jail cell.
More than two weeks after the 46-year-old black man died, how the city – and police departments everywhere in black and brown neighborhoods – respond remains an unsettled question.
Here’s what I saw after arriving and documented on Twitter for the week that I was there:
I started at Cup Foods, where Floyd died. The mood there was like many I witnessed during my five-plus days in Minneapolis: sad yet angry. Frustrated but peaceful. A young woman urged participants to register to vote.
In Minneapolis helping @USATODAY cover the aftermath of #GeorgeFloyd’s death. A couple dozen of people are fathered outside of Cup Foods, where a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck while trying to make an arrest. pic.twitter.com/jIuXKHfSJf
Hours later, well before the Third Precinct would go up in flames, protests there turned from chanting to looting and violence. While dozens urged the crowd not to throw things, break into buildings or light fires, the fractured nature of the demonstrations became apparent. The looting of a liquor store was stopped after a group of men guarded its entrance. Then the AutoZone was set ablaze. I came to realize no matter how many people urged calm, it only took one or two to sew chaos.
Went and talked with a couple people who knew #GeorgeFloyd. Returned to 38th and Chicago about 6:15 pm and the crowd has gotten bigger. More signs, louder music but very peaceful. Jade Sheriff, 32 (pictured) is holding her sign in hopes to protect her two children. pic.twitter.com/lcVphTvGyG
The story became big enough to draw Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson to Minneapolis. While Jackson prepared to speak at a church, looting broke out in St. Paul so I left the gatherings and speeches to see what was happening. Some business owners took to the streets to defend their property; others watched helplessly. An ominous sentiment was conveyed everywhere I went that day. The worst is yet to come.
I left St. Paul after speaking with residents saddened by the stealing as law enforcement watched nearby. Others felt the looting was cathartic for many people struggling because of the pandemic.
Hundreds gathered in downtown Minneapolis for a march into the streets. I would be pepper sprayed after demonstrators stopped to confront city police officers.
The looting “hurt me … because all of those people are young people misguided. They don’t have anywhere to direct their frustration and energy that’s justified,” a local teacher told me.
The third precinct would be lit on fire as I was in my hotel, recovering from a healthy dose of pepper spray.
I was told to start working that evening so I could save my energy for late-afternoon and nighttime demonstrations. The adjustment proved prescient; I would need the energy to safely escape arson and chemical irritants on the southside.
After following several groups, including one led by a former NBA player, I latched on to a post-curfew protest – a three-mile march up an interstate to the Uptown district. I stuck with the peaceful marchers who were critical of the Minneapolis mayor and DA while saving some kind words for good Minneapolis police officers. ““They let us do what we need to do.”
No more interstate for this group. They’re at W 26 and Lyndale. Folks driving on sidewalks, but no violence or property damage yet that I can see. Curfew ended nearly 2.5 hours ago. #GeorgeFloydpic.twitter.com/f0HpcZPXKL
Geneva Wireko said she’s been protesting since 1 pm and has no plans to go home. She said people are skipping curfew because they’re rightfully angry. “The county prosecutor likes to point out that Minnesota is one of few state to convicted a cop… but it was a Somali cop.” pic.twitter.com/DiyLn6zfPa
I left the marchers to see how wild the arson and looting in the area would get. Before midnight, state troopers and Minneapolis police stormed the streets near the Fifth Precinct to clear crowds. I arranged for a ride so I wouldn’t be pepper sprayed or arrested among a truly unruly crowd.
Had to get out of dodge. Dozens of law enforcement officers are dispersing crowds near the 5th Precinct. Smoke bombs & chemical irritants were used but it was hard to tell where the smoke was coming from because there were an incredible amount of fireworks being shot #GeorgeFloydpic.twitter.com/hWxBdP05Nu
We didn’t know what to expect Friday. All eyes were on Minnesota and rhetoric from the White House put pressure on local leaders to keep protest peaceful. On the streets of Minneapolis, recovery was well underway as neighborhoods hit hardest by arson and looters saw influxes of volunteer help. Speeches and marches continued to fill the city. I told the photographer I was with that the night may be quieter than the two previous. That may have been true for Minneapolis, but not for the rest of the country.
His name: Augustine Livingstone. Like others, he says arsons are mostly done by people who don’t live in #Minneapolis. “Ain’t no black person burning down no damn barbershops in their hood… it’s a lot of people coming in… to act out some sort of rage or fantasy.” #GeorgeFloydpic.twitter.com/t2ygTvlB9D
Back in #Minneapolis covering the #GeorgeFloydprotests & recovery. Hundreds receiving free food, household items outside boarded up shops near Emerson+Broadway on the north side. Volunteers created makeshift donation dropoff, distribution centers outside the US Bank & the ECMN pic.twitter.com/WBb0pghyZa
Demonstrators ignored another curfew, peacefully gathering at popular protest spots until being moved by law enforcement. For three hours, I tracked groups of people who’d set up a barricade just to have it knocked down by police officers, trying to get people to go home.
I was near Julio shortly after this happened. I noticed a green laser light on the side of building next to me then a projectile fired from the top of the Fifth Precinct whizzed by my head. Wasn’t hit but certainly felt as if I was being aimed at. #GeorgeFloydhttps://t.co/LNAD0HHIgq
“Don’t do it bro! This is what they want you to do,” one said. Another man argued “burn it down!” Group of guys standing in nearby yard remind those lighting the fire that black people live on this block and threaten to defend it from further flames. “This our hood!” #GeorgeFloydpic.twitter.com/2AQxGFcXFZ
My final night in the city was May 31. I was exhausted by the marching and the stories of violence. I was impressed by the will of people risking their freedom for something they believed in. I worried for the city where I had spent a year of elementary school; it would never look or feel the same. I knew big change was on the horizon. How would that affect the Twin Cities’ most vulnerable populations?
Asked a 23 y.o. black man from the southside of #Minneapolis if he agreed with construction roadblocks being set ablaze as officers approached: “The way I look at it is: they don’t wanna follow the rules so we’re not following the rules, period.”#GeorgeFloydpic.twitter.com/QSqKomeWJa
Powderhorn still awake. Haven’t been here in a few days. Large flower memorials for #GeorgeFloyd. Tony Clark, 28, who‘s talked on the megaphone much of the time, told the group they should go home and get some rest at midnight. “We go home when we want, not when they tell us.” pic.twitter.com/3qbBVH1OXV